Qualifications Needed for a Career in Natural Sciences

Sep 23, 2019

Natural science careers encompass many fields of interest to pursue. As a whole, each field has a typical set of roles to pursue with their own educational requirements and required skills for success.

Essential Information

The natural sciences include multiple fields, such as zoology, biology, microbiology and ecology. Careers in these fields vary significantly, but most positions focus on furthering our understanding of how living organisms function within various environments. Most workers specialize in a particular field or subfield. Some workers remain in laboratories testing samples whereas other workers observe species in the wild.

Careers Conservation scientists Conservation technicians Environmental scientists Environmental technicians
Required Education Bachelor's Associate's Bachelor's Associate's
Other Requirements Graduate degree Specialty certifications Graduate degree Specialty certifications
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 4% 2% 8% 9%
Average Salary(2018) $65,320 $40,110 $77,580 $50,350

Source *Bureau of Labor Statistics (

Job Description

Natural sciences personnel can include laboratory technicians, scientists and other specialists. Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated technicians provide support to scientists by watching experiments, notating results and taking care of laboratory equipment ( Scientists supervise technicians, design experiments and analyze research results to determine potential conclusions. Specialists are similar to scientists, but they tend to focus on one specific field or subfield within the natural sciences.

Required Job Skills

Technicians, scientists and specialists must be able to work well with other professionals. For instance, although technicians are often assigned independent duties, they can usually only complete their tasks by working together with fellow team members. Likewise, scientists and specialists who team up on research projects need to cooperate with team members in order to obtain results. Many scientists also collaborate with other professionals in the field at conferences.

Communication skills are also essential. Individuals must orally provide concise instructions during an experiment. Workers must also clearly express themselves in writing as they carefully record test results and observations. Many careers also require workers to regularly correspond with individuals who lack a scientific background. For example, some investors may not be familiar with scientific jargon, so technicians and scientists might need to translate advanced concepts into simpler terms.

The ability to use computer programs has become mandatory for many careers in the natural sciences. For example, laboratory equipment is often computerized and results are usually entered into a computer program for graphing and spreadsheet purposes. Scientists conducting outdoor research may have to use computerized global positioning software (GPS) to verify the project location. Other required tasks, such as typing up research notes, submitting grant proposals and corresponding with colleagues, all require basic computer literacy.

Education Qualifications

Technicians usually require an associate's degree or certificate in a field related to the natural sciences, per the BLS. Several degree and certificate programs focus specifically on training students to become specialized lab technicians. Coursework includes laboratory safety, research technology and laboratory procedures. The majority of degree programs also include fundamental courses in the life sciences and some advanced courses in specific fields within the natural sciences.

Scientists and specialists often need a graduate degree to design and conduct advanced research projects. Scientists who only hold a bachelor's degree generally work in fields that apply scientific research to everyday problems. Most graduate programs are highly structured so scientists can specialize in particular fields. Although not mandatory, some scientists earn graduate degrees in several related fields. For example, a scientist studying the genetics of birds may hold graduate degrees in ornithology (the study of birds), molecular biology and genetics.

Salary and Employment Outlook

Since careers in the natural sciences can span a number of job titles, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't have just one set of data available. It does, however, report salary and employment statistics for a number of job titles.

In its May 2018 salary report, the BLS found that conservation scientists earned a mean annual salary of $65,320 while forest and conservation technicians earned a mean annual salary of $40,110. In comparison, environmental scientists had a mean annual salary of $77,580 and environmental science technicians earned $50,350 as noted in that same report.

Conservation scientists and foresters were expected to see only 4% growth in employment opportunities during the 2018-2028 decade, the BLS reported, while forest and conservation technicians would see a 2% increase in employment. Both careers were slower than the average rate of growth. Meanwhile, environmental specialists and scientists could see faster-than-average 8% growth during that period, and environmental protection and science technicians could see faster-than-average 9% growth in employment.

Careers in natural science depend on using teamwork to build off one another, communication to work with others of varying levels of knowledge and technology proficiency to stay current with a rapidly evolving global society. Natural sciences provide opportunities in both hands-on and research based work. Specialization is common, and job growth rates vary widely depending on chosen area of study.

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